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3D printed prostheses with AI: all the new frontiers of movement

The time when prostheses were synonymous with a fully completed sports life will soon end. Research and technology are fast, with benefits and advantages that will also affect the practice of sport. Returning to sport after an important operation, in fact, thanks to modern prostheses will soon be a reality within everyone's reach.

Advanced prostheses and cost reduction with 3D printing

3D printer developments and prosthetic design innovations open up new opportunities for millions of people around the world.

Until yesterday, it took weeks, sometimes months, to get a traditional prosthesis. Because each one had to be made "to measure" and the price was therefore particularly high. High tech prostheses that were also suitable for sports activities were a privilege for a few.

Hand in hand: prostheses and man.
With 3D printing, on the other hand, it will be possible to have prostheses that are affordable for everyone and everyone can design and print their own. This will also apply to those who have lost a limb, or for children who grow up and move and for whom replacements must be more frequent.

Making prostheses more democratic, by making them with 3D printing, would lead millions of people to benefit from this technology. Soon they will be integrated into everyday life.

Open source initiatives such as The Enable Community Foundation (run by an international team of volunteers) allow you to create your own hand for about $50.

Body scanning technologies also allow you to create natural-looking models.

Technological developments from the world of innovation lead to the introduction of new skills, sensors and sophisticated algorithms with the aim of making movements increasingly natural (as shown by the projects carried out at MIT by researcher Hugh Herr). Not to mention that 3D printers are becoming compatible with new materials, such as lightweight titanium.

Scientists study 3d printing applications in the development of the latest generation of prostheses

The future of artificial intelligence prostheses

In the future, people will be able to control robotic prostheses with thought, using brain-computer interfaces. This is what researchers are currently working on, currently focusing on people who lose the use of limbs. Brain signals are difficult to decipher, which means that existing brain-computer interfaces that control robotic limbs are often slow or clumsy.

Making prostheses more democratic, by making them with 3D printing, would lead millions of people to benefit from this technology

But things may soon change: a team of doctors and neuroscientists recently published an article in the journal Nature Medicine on a brain-computer interface that uses a neural network to decode brain signals into precise movements via a realistic robotic arm controlled by the mind. The artificial intelligence systems used in this research are modelled relatively similarly to the brain's "circuits" that excel in finding models in large sets of information.
A prototype of 3D printed heart prostheses

Neural networks

After almost two and a half years of training sessions, the neural networks were sufficiently ready to identify which brain signals were linked to specific muscle commands and how to transmit them to the robotic limb. Not only did the neural network allow the patient to move the robotic arm with greater accuracy and less delay than existing systems, but it did so even better when the researchers let it train itself: that is, the neural network was able to teach itself which brain signals corresponded to which arm movements most effectively without any suggestion from the researchers.
With the neural network, the subject was able to collect and manipulate three small objects with the robotic hand, a skill that is easily taken for granted but often escapes those who rely on prosthetic arts in everyday life.
New prostheses do not restrict sporting activity

Touch Prosthetics

In addition to simulating the movements of the affected part of the body, be it a hand, a leg or a knee, the prostheses of the future will also recreate the feeling of touching and feeling for those who use them.

For example, research is already working to create a synthetic and intelligent skin - with built-in sensors - that simulates the tactile feedback of human skin, making it possible to feel pressure, temperature and even humidity. But how could you feed such a futuristic material? A group of researchers at the University of Glasgow in the UK have developed a version that would use the sun's rays to power those sensors that allow electronic skin to mimic human skin.

Touch-sensitive hand prostheses
By producing its energy from a natural source, according to technicians, the electronic skin could work better than other similar materials powered by batteries or connected to a power source that limits portability, and this is clearly a key feature for any touch prosthesis or motion-sensitive robotics. The team of technicians superimposed a layer of electrogenic photovoltaic cells on the back of a prosthetic hand on which sensors were added. These sensors are made of graphene, a flexible material stronger than steel, electrically conductive and transparent. The team then commissioned the hand to perform exercises such as grasping soft objects, which was a successful operation.

The Italian bionic hand with a sense of touch

One of the most innovative creations in terms of prostheses with a sense of touch is the one created for Almerina Mascarello, who today is the first woman with a bionic hand that has the sensation of touch. The operation was performed at the Policlinico Gemelli on technology of the University of Pisa.

Almerina Mascarello, now 55 years old, lost her left hand and part of her forearm in an accident twenty years ago and was chosen as one of the subjects subjected to medical tests for the new type of prosthesis.

Exercises such as the spread of legs would have been more complex with prostheses from older generations
The researchers equipped Almerina with the artificial limb, which allows complete movement of the fingers and is equipped with soft and tactile phalanxes, and a backpack to wear that contains a small computer. When the fingers of the bionic hand touch something, the signals they generate are sent to the computer that then processes the information and transmits it to her brain via electrodes connected to the nerves of her arm.

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